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May 14, 2022

Pete Robbins

Why Professional Anglers Need Forward Facing Sonar

With a full slate of media duties and other professional obligations on tap, in addition to getting ready for a marathon slate of nine Bassmaster Opens, you might think that Oklahoma pro Matt Pangrac would spend what little free time he gets honing his bass game.

You’d be right. He never stops learning or obsessing about America’s most popular gamefish. What might surprise you is that he’s becoming a better bass angler primarily by chasing crappie.

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“I’ve always been a guy who just loves to fish”

Unspoken in that sentence is the fact that everything he does is purposeful. “The more you fish, the better you get. I played hockey in college, and this is just like any other athletic endeavor. You have to keep your skills sharp. The last few winters I was able to fish three or four times a week, but this winter it’s down to about once a week.”

With the time pinch on his mind, he’s putting many of his eggs into the forward-facing sonar basket. As a media figure and confidante of many top pros, he’s seen how the new technology has changed the game, and he doesn’t want to fall behind.

What is Forward Facing Sonar

Forward facing sonar has changed the game of fishing at the highest level. The main technology known as forward facing sonar is a transducer that shoots a beam in a forward direction or a down direction getting a picture of what structure or fish are in any direction you point it in. The kicker is that this is being received in live timing meaning you can see not only a piece of structure and the fish, but you can see the fish swimming. The technology allows anglers to follow your bait back to the boat and watch as fish eat it. Anglers are even using it to find fish and then test what mood the fish are in and even entice them into biting.

Tournament Fishing Without Forward Facing Sonar is a Massive Disadvantage

“Right now, if you don’t have it – and you just have two-dimensional sonar or down-imaging, you’re massively disadvantaged. Covering the sport full-time I’ve seen these trends. It reminds me of when I first got into the industry, when side-imaging was just coming out. Covering the Elite Series, going to every single event, I saw what a massive advantage that provided.”

Pangrac leaned on his contacts to convince him and help him get started. He got in the boat with sonar specialist John Soukop of The Bass Tank and saw how he utilized his tools. Then he noticed in veteran pro Scott Martin’s YouTube videos how reliant Martin had become on forward-facing sonar. Most importantly, he observed that Martin “never made a cast where his trolling motor wasn’t facing.” Right before the biggest tournament of his young career, a Toyota Series Championship on Lake Cumberland, Pangrac spent a precious $2,400 out of pocket on the tools he needed to enter the forward-facing game. His faith was rewarded with a 3rd place finish and a check for over $20,000. That just sealed the deal, but there’s always more to learn.

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So why does he chase crappie more than bass?

His primary reason is that “you can get a lot more feedback.” But that’s not all: “It’s fun, relaxing and you can do it with a buddy, which takes it back to the enjoyment factor. It’s a different fish, but still a fish, and they’re delicious.”

While the wintertime behavior of Oklahoma crappie doesn’t necessarily translate to how bass will act in Florida or Virginia or New York several months down the line, it gets his mind in gear while simultaneously cementing his muscle memory. When the crappie move from day to day or week to week, or bite at a different time, he’ll start to figure out how to relocate fish and get them to chew, a critical skill for any angler. Most importantly, he’s doing it when he’s not under a time crunch or trying to cover his entry fees and other expenses. Perhaps most critically, it’s getting him ready to hit the road and put his other obligations out of sight for a brief period.

Bass Can Be Isolated in Places You Don't Expect

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that big bass are not always on what you would consider ‘the juice,” he said. “I’ll see singles isolated 40 feet from the brush pile, bass that you would generally consider ‘co-angler fish.’ They’re still relating to the cover or structure, but they’re often holding off to the side of it. Those ones to the side often seem to be a little bit more aggressive. They slide out there to feed.”

Go to Matt Pangrac Forward Facing Sonar
Matt Pangrac Forward Facing Sonar

While others hunt or spend time with family or pursue other interests, to the exclusion of getting better on the water, Pangrac knows that a fast start is key to a good season. At the Opens level a bad day or two means a lost season.

“Over the years I’ve seen certain guys who suck in Florida,” he said. “Every tournament counts the same, so it’s critical to start off in midseason form. The guys who suck often blame the fish, saying that they left them, but the guys who do well are the ones who can adjust. Little bitty stuff is often the difference between catching one fish and leading the tournament.”

Forward facing sonar has opened up the possibility to overcome these challenges. Matt Pangrac realized how integral it was to shorten his learning curve while on the water and realize truly why you dont see many pro right now without a forward facing sonar system on their boat.